Roman Catholic cardinals gathered today to start the process of electing a new Pope, kicking off the morning with a solemn Mass and prayers that they would select the right leader. Because these guys are great at symbolism, they will vote in the Sistine Chapel below the painting of the Last Judgment.
The last pontiff, Pope Benedict, resigned suddenly, saying that he was not strong enough to guide the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church turning to him for leadership, and the new guy will take over at one of the most troubled times in the Church's history. As of yet, there is no clear favorite. Experts have pointed to Italy's Angelo Scola, who would bring the papacy back to Rome for the first time in three decades, and Odilo Scherer of Brazil, who would be the first non-European pope in 1,300 years; the conclave will most likely be debating whether it wants to select a candidate who can connect with laity, or a candidate who can repair the byzantine bureaucracy and financial hardships currently plaguing the Church.
This voting process can last for several days. The cardinals will most likely hold their first vote late Tuesday afternoon, though this will probably be inconclusive. They must wait until one man wins a two-third majority (at least 77 votes). As is tradition, the cardinals will use smoke signals to communicate—black smoke from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel will show that no one has been elected, white smoke and the ringing of bells at St. Peter's church announce the arrival of a new pope.
To protect the secrecy of this meeting, the cardinals are banned from communicating with the outside world. They have also used "high-tech measures" to make sure they will stave off any eavesdroppers wanting to acquire inside information. But a little gumption and a funny costume can get you pretty close!